Ramadan in Marawi, one year after the siege

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Last year, the Eid al-Fitr feast was celebrated in Marawi despite the siege. This year, the beginning of the holiest month of the Islamic calendar takes place as Maranaos work to rebuild their lives. Photo by AMIR MAWALLIL

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The anniversary of the start of the Marawi siege draws near, even as the Muslim faithful in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have begun their Ramadan fasting. Ramadan is a time of rectitude, prayer, contemplation and fasting. It is also a time when Muslims around the world share what they can with those in need.

The rebuilding of Marawi, the only Islamic city in the Philippines, offers both challenges and opportunities. Last year, the Eid al-Fitr feast was celebrated here amid exchanges of fire between local terrorist group and government security forces. This year, the beginning of the holiest month of the Islamic calendar takes place as our brethren in Marawi work to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

The regional government of the ARMM has provided free slots to 20 survivors of the Marawi crisis at the ongoing Ramadan Fair inside the ARMM Compound in Cotabato City. These beneficiaries are small traders who lost their means of livelihood when the siege started in May last year.

thumbnail.jpeg The Ramadan Fair in Cotabato City where 20 Maranao traders who have powered through last year's conflict share their products. Photo by AMIR MAWALLIL

They sell various goods, from food to souvenir items. Three of these small traders spoke of their experiences over the last year and expressed their sentiments about this opportunity offered by the regional government for them to re-establish their means of income.

Marawi City was known as a hub for business before five months of combat displaced its residents and destroyed the thriving small businesses there. The Battle of Marawi began on May 23, 2017. It has been a year since, and the rebuilding of this city is underway.

Working to stabilize

Raisa Bangunan, 47, has four children aged between eight and 12 years. Her stall at the fair holds food items that she sells to visitors. Her family was among those who were displaced by the intense fighting in Marawi. Bangunan’s family stayed at an evacuation center in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur and they depended on goods received from relief agencies.

The Bangunans later transferred to a temporary shelter in Sagonsongan, Marawi City after the fighting ended. Despite this, Raisa said, they remained dependent on relief goods. She and her family worked together to set up their food stall, Raisa said. She added that she plans to send her husband and kids back to Marawi while she works to stabilize the operation of her small business here.

Ms. Raisa Bangunan.jpg Forty-seven-year-old Raisa Bangunan sells food items at her stall in the Ramadan Fair. She and her family were dependent on relief goods during the siege in Marawi, but they have worked together to set up a food stall. Photo by AMIR MAWALLIL

The sales from Raisa’s stall were still relatively low over the past few days. It is a sacrifice, she added, when she must be here as her husband and kids stay in Marawi. The situation, however, calls for temporary separation so they may earn enough to support the family. Her husband is renting a tricycle in Marawi to augment the family’s income.

“I told my husband we should work separately and help each other,” Raisa said in Filipino.  He should go to Marawi so we could both earn money and we should not be dependent on what ARMM has given us.”

The people of Marawi have been working at more than just rebuilding the physical structures of their homes and businesses. They work to rebuild their capacities to earn and live good, productive lives. Last year, their Ramadan was spent praying for their safety and the safety of their families, as well as contemplating their relationship with Allah: Their complete dependence on Allah was very clear then — and good-hearted people responded to their prayers with generosity and kindness even during the siege. Allah’s answer to their prayers was clear: They were to hold on to that hope for peace and goodness.

Single parent

Another beneficiary is 32-year-old Rachma Sultan of Lumbac Marinaut in Marawi City. With a six-year-old child to support, her situation was very difficult. Sultan’s husband had died of stroke in August last year.

Ms. Rachma Sultan .jpg “I am grateful for the assistance since this is an opportunity for us to start again,” says Rachma Sultan who is from Lumbac Marinaut in Marawi City. She plans to stay in Cotabato City if her small enterprise provides her and her six-year-old son enough income. Photo by AMIR MAWALLIL

She and her child sheltered at the Saguiaran evacuation center during the Marawi crisis. Sultan and her child now rent an apartment in Cotabato City. She plans to stay here for good if her small business earns enough to support their daily needs. Like Raisa, Sultan also sells food items at the fair: “I am grateful for the assistance since this is an opportunity for us to start again.”

Last year, Marawi City’s folk were praying for their lives, for the loved ones they lost in the conflict, along with their homes and businesses. This year, they who survived the crisis are celebrating Ramadan with that hope they kept alive in their hearts. They are also working to rebuild what war destroyed.

Working with assistance

Jamael C. Manan, 49 and father of four children, lived with his relatives during the Marawi crisis. His family’s house and store were destroyed during the five months of fighting. Manan has nowhere to go in Marawi now that the fighting has ended. He sells souvenir items at the Ramadan Fair.

Visitors have been buying some of his items during the days his stall has been operating at the fair: “We really need this so we could earn a living on our own.”

Mr. Jamael Manan 2.jpg A father of four children, Jamael C. Manan lost their home because of the five-month conflict. Now, he sells souvenir items at the Ramadan Fair to earn a living. Photo by AMIR MAWALLIL

The individual cases shared above provide the seeds from where local government units and civil society could nurture into small economic enterprises for income and livelihood of Marawi crisis victims in near to medium terms. It should be noted that trade and commerce in Marawi before last year’s siege thrived on micro and small businesses.

What is critical here, however, is not mere financial and material assistance but consistent support that could inspire residents to rise up and restore, if not improve on, their pre-crisis economic status. This does not mean dependency on traditional institutions but rather assurance from the community that there is something to hold on to in case of failures and major problems.

The generosity that is traditionally given during Ramadan has earned a response of willingness to work among Marawi’s people, whether they have returned to Marawi or not. They are responding to the generosity of the people who are offering them help with faith — in their communities where they are rebuilding their small businesses, and in the people, near and far, who are reaching out to them in solidarity and prayer.

It is in the worst adversity that faith is tested. It is in recovery that faith sees the beginnings of its rewards: Faith, prayer, work, and goodwill cannot be destroyed by acts of war.